The conference took place on July 15 and 16, 2004, at the Hellenic Police Force Academy in Athens (16, Mesogeion St.), with the participation of Hellenic Police officers and representatives of the Ombudsman`s office.
Public Order Minister Georgios Voulgarakis
“This is a very good opportunity to share some views and for me to speak from my heart about the way I perceive this issue. I feel that you, also, on your part, may view it somewhat along the same lines.
As you know, people in a free society are normally confused when they hear about codes of ethics, restrictions, duty descriptions, obligations and so on. For example, when, as a Parliament deputy, I read Parliament`s Code of Regulations I saw that the dress code for deputies during Parliament sessions or panel meetings requires shirt and tie. Always, when there is a discussion about how things should be done, understandably, there are many questions that arise, and long discussions take place on the issue; and rightfully so.
In my view, there is a central issue, which we must tackle successfully within the next few years. This central issue is that the very same citizens who demand the immediate intervention of police officers during emergencies are the very same citizens that would not hesitate to condemn police officers every time they happen to be on the opposite side.
The very same citizens who during demonstrations or protests- which they hold to demand pay increases, for example, that they are not receiving — clash with police officers who are trying to protect the rest of the city; those very same citizens who will happen to drive their car in Athens during a demonstration staged by others will say, “but, what is the police doing, aren`t there any police here?”
This is a key issue, which, if broken down into individual parameters, could encompass all the elements that one is called upon to assess and approach as litigious offences- to use a legal term, if I may. In other words, it is right here where the “fine line” should be sought. What I mean by this is that citizens should realize that police officers are working people. For example, a police officer could be their brother-in-law, their friend, their cousin or a relative. At the same time, a police officer should realize that the person opposite him or her is the very same person that he himself becomes when he is out of uniform.
This is the plain truth, however, in real life, the “plain truth” is not always self-evident; because, as you know, the most difficult thing in life is the starting point. The difficulty in math, for example, was to detach the number 0 from number 1. Once that was done, the rest followed. Accordingly, all these “plain truths” generate a multitude of consequential issues and discussions that refer to the character, personality or social origin of each person.
In other words, if things are left in a rough state, in a laboratory condition, then each one among us, not just among police officers, but among all of us, behaves according to his/her social origins, education, training and upbringing- because upbringing is something broader than education- according to the teachings he has received from their family, how he joined society, his friends and so on. In other words, each person behaves according to the elements of his character. If a person has a peculiar character, then that person is peculiar.
Everything I mentioned earlier, and I know that most of you know, since they are self-explanatory truths — which, nevertheless, sometimes cannot be easily spelled out- have led organized groups to decide on certain rules that are within the framework of democracy. Here is what I mean by that: The basic framework of democracy within a free and democratic establishment is, “I do whatever I want as long as I don`t bother anyone, while also, others do what they want as long as they don`t bother anyone.”
Naturally, all these are taking place within a structured society; they go by the law and order that society wants as a reference framework for all of us. Therefore, they are inserted as interlocking rings- one might say- into a much larger structure.
Accordingly, this code of ethics is a working text, and I should say that I am very pleased because I feel that our cooperation with the Ombudsman is a very significant fact, we really need it. But also the Ombudsman needs it, because the Ombudsman`s role is two-way, it is educational, but also advisory as far as preparations are concerned. Moreover, the Ombudsman`s role is also very significant for our protection.
I am very pleased that this cooperation advances very well, it has already born some fruit and, as I imagine, it will be much more productive in the future. This is what will give the ammunition to all of us in order to win this wager in the future. Therefore, I believe that the working text that you now have is a very important work tool, which, the same as all work tools, must pass the test of scrutiny and, therefore, be corrected.
Because the same as every respectable text, it is expected to pass scrutiny and, consequently, correction. Therefore, this is what should happen here also: through discussions, which have already began as I have been informed, we should be able to come up with something realistic that will assist the force and naturally the citizens, who will be able to realize it. It is a very significant thing for society to have the image it acquires, the assumed images it has from people on the opposite side.
I mentioned earlier that the central issue is how we will be able to give a positive response to this two-way relationship between police and citizens, given the distrust on the part of the citizen, who expects the officer to stand on the opposite, as well as on the same side as him, simultaneously.
A typical example is the (surveillance) cameras that have been recently installed throughout Athens, which will contribute to security efforts during the Olympics. I am taking this opportunity to clarify this matter- since there have been long discussions about it- and how I really view this issue.
When Greece assumed the hosting of the Olympic Games, the environment was very immature, it had nothing to do with the security level that exists today.
That was a time before Sept. 11, or the terrorism issues or everything else that took place. You might say “OK, all this took place, but Greece does not have the profile of a country that is subject to terrorist attacks”.
True, Greece does not match that profile. Nevertheless, we are not holding the Olympic Games by ourselves. We are hosting the Olympic Games, however, where 200 or more countries are going to participate. In order for those 200 countries to be ale to send their delegations, their officials and their representatives, they must make sure that the environment in that country offers them a level of assurance that they will be able to leave as they arrived.
Also, as far as I am concerned, if someone told me that havoc is reigning in some country, I would prefer not to go there. If I knew that I could take my family or my friends at that country to watch an exciting football game, for example, without having to face any crime or security related problems, I would go there. These things are absolutely understandable.
Nevertheless, this attitude on an international level has forced Greece to increase security measures. And obviously, these security measures are designed to such degree as to be able to be effective.
It was decided to have these advanced surveillance systems in operation during the Olympic Games. These systems cost 85 billion drachmas, a mythical amount. If someone had told me before I took over the responsibility for carrying out this process, I would not believe it myself.
So, the question for the post-Olympics time is the following: Will these 85 billion (drachmas) go into cold storage (after the Olympics)? Will they be in use for just 30 days or will they be utilized somehow?
At this point, a second question may be asked: If it is decided that they will be utilized, will they in anyway affect (citizens`) personal data? In other words, will they be able to intervene in the personal lives of each and every one of us and will this create a problem with human rights and individual freedoms?
In Greece we have the tendency to “re-discover America” over and over, although America has already been discovered several hundreds of years ago. In all western capitals and large cities throughout the world, practical law enforcement and traffic management issues were handled through the use of these systems.
In any case, I consider that in this day and age it would be a joke to be concerned about (this type of) surveillance, since a satellite in space can observe and monitor the movements of a person close up. In the case of the land registry (in Greece), for example, which will allow us to map Greece, through the use of the GIS -the information systems- we could determine, within a few centimeters, the distance and the type of cultivation taking place.
Foremost, it can see the license plates of a vehicle. Foremost, it can look in my wallet when I open it. For example, a third-generation cell phone — those that will soon be in circulation — I could place it here and it could be connected to a satellite and receive sound and image from a central place where there is something.
Nevertheless, due to sensitivities running high here, and because I would never allow the Ministry to regress, and, in any case be accused of anti-democratic behavior – this is the last thing that would ever happen – I want to make myself perfectly clear. This is true on a global level – for example if someone in Puerto Rico wants to hook up with certain satellites that provide such databases, he can observe and monitor my movements as I leave the building and even see where I am going.
Similar operations have taken place with success — particularly vis-a-vis cocaine cartels -with the use of special devices attached on vehicles, ones that monitor and can see what people do, not just from here to Alexandras Avenue, but from Fifth Avenue to Moscow.
In spite of all this -and I want to make myself absolutely clear on this issue – after the Games, when they are over – this is the first time I am saying this here, and I am also going to inform Parliament on this – I want a dialogue to take place. I will begin on the basis that all these things are a legacy for Greece, a legacy that should be productively utilized. There are ways for this.
These ways, nevertheless, have to be sought and armed with legal provisions to prevent the possibility of arbitrary actions on the part of possibly some other Minister or other police officers that may follow in the future.
Therefore, a sincere dialogue must take place with the Hellenic Personal Data Protection Authority and the Ombudsman, with the Parliament`s inter-party committee, so that we can determine the use of such systems in a way to contribute to patrolling and operating in the cities, streets and so on, without infringing on individual freedoms or in any way restricting legal rights.
I will mention two examples: the national highway network cannot be patrolled if there is no image. If, in other words, I cannot see the Malliakos Gulf from a central location, I cannot send a helicopter for clearing traffic congestion that might exist. Therefore, somehow I must be able to have an image of the Malliakos Gulf – which has a high traffic fatality rate every year. Those of you who come from that area know this better than I do.
For example, you cannot patrol the Patra-Athens-Thessaloniki highway or the Egnatia Highway unless you have five or six critical points of reference, such as Express Service (road assistance) or ELPA (Greece`s AAA) had in the past. We should say the obvious. For example, I will be able through these systems to provide this information via the Internet, and the citizen who wants to drive into town will be able through the Internet to see traffic on Stadiou street for example, live.
I would like to thank the Ombudsman because I really consider his contribution to be very significant. I would also like to thank all those who assisted with the creation of this working text so that it can function as a basis, as a working text, in order to place things on a better pace that will lead to better levels.
I would like to thank all of you for your participation in any way, for intervening in this process either in a positive or a negative way, and develop in that manner an improved basis each time, because this is the only way that things can evolve.
I believe that through such procedures the Hellenic Police Force will be able to enter into such levels of international recognition that will really make a difference. I would like to thank you and wish you the best in your work.”